LONDON Brandishing what it claims is the most power-efficient digital baseband architecture available for the GSM General Packet Radio Service, Parthus Technologies plc has added mobile communications to its licensable technology platforms. Parthus executives said the move also marks a key step on the route to a platform-of-platforms approach to system design. Code named Valhalla, this approach will guide the company's future combination offerings.
Parthus (Dublin, Ireland) licenses hardware and software intellectual property (IP) in the form of so-called "platforms" that address particular application areas. The platform approach is claimed to promote reusability of the individual hard and soft blocks among multiple licensees, and allow fast iteration of system-on-chip designs.
Parthus' established offerings comprise InfoStream, presently based around the ARM920 RISC processor and covering mobile com puting; MediaStream, aimed at streaming-data applications such as MP3 and MPEG-2; BlueStream for Bluetooth connectivity; and NavStream for satellite-based positioning systems.
The newest platform, dubbed MobiStream, is intended to address the GSM mobile communications standard as well as the General Packet Radio Service protocol, an addition to the established circuit-switched GSM network. GPRS provides packet switching and improves data rates to and from GSM handsets.
"Right now customers are often taking one of our solutions. The real opportunity is when you start bringing multiple platforms together," said Kevin Fielding, chief operating officer of Parthus. "Valhalla is the overall rules of the road on how to do this. It's intended to make it more plug-and-play for the next applications."
Fielding said details of the Valhalla approach are still being worked on but that it would include generic rules about media and data handling, a guiding preference for CMOS over more exotic process technolog ies to promote reuse and a system-level structure for the software architecture.
"The key challenge in Valhalla is the software architecture," said Fielding. As a platform that itself consists of platforms of reusable intellectual-property blocks, "Valhalla is doubly abstract, but it's vital to make sure these things work together," he said.
Parthus' road map for convergence includes a plan to gradually combine its various platforms. By the time 0.13-micron process technology is more generally available it should be possible to include the digital parts of all Parthus offerings on a single baseband chip, the company said.
One interim combination is InfoStream with MobiStream and MediaStream to produce a multimedia-capable smart-phone baseband platform. Similarly, the combination of Info-Stream with NavStream and BlueStream is being used to produce a communicating, location-aware handheld computer design called BlueHound, due in about the second quarter of 2002.
Illustrating the multiplatform approach, Parthus said that 3Com Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.) would be its lead customer for MobiStream as part of a multiple-platform licensing deal the companies announced last month.
MobiStream, like the other Parthus platforms, is designed to work with a RISC processor core from ARM Holdings plc (Cambridge, England). MobiStream also includes a software interface called the Generic Target Interface that allows the use of G.23 protocol stacks from Condat Datensysteme GmbH (Berlin) to help provide the GPRS functionality.
"We're initially focused on ARM7, and the protocol stack is provided as source code for the ARM7," said Gerry Maguire, general manager of the wireless business unit of Parthus. "MobiStream is GSM/GPRS this year. We will have an Edge [Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution] solution next year."
Parthus claims that MobiStream is the most power-efficient GPRS baseband architecture available, and estimates a fivefold improvement over current-generation GPRS basebands at one-fifteent h the power required by solutions that use a programmable DSP.
"Our hardware-centric approach frees up the DSP to do other things," said Maguire, who suggested that programmable DSP-based GPRS would have trouble scaling beyond Class 12 operation. MobiStream can address GPRS connectivity up to Class 12, Parthus said.
"We provide up to Layer 1 [of the seven-layer communications model], Condat provides Layer 2 and 3. This is digital only. We intend to work with existing [RF] chip set vendors as much as possible," said Maguire.
Maguire said MobiStream would have a flexible interface to RF chip sets to allow the use of other digital signaling across the partition or the use of an analog interface.
"The Sony radio, with its analog interface, is what we're working to, to begin with," he said.
The use of dedicated hardware for GPRS should free up a programmable DSP, which is included in most mobile phone basebands, to perform basic audio codec operations and multimedia applications. Parthus can provide this capability through its MediaStream platform and foresees the deployment of MobiStream in concert with other Parthus platforms according to licensees' desire to build particular types of mobile devices.
'Radically simple connections'
"Wireless technology allows 3Com to provide radically simple connections to our customers," said Rick Maule, general manager of the mobile-connectivity division of 3Com. "Our next generation of wireless and mobile products are a natural extension and will complement our current role in LAN technologies."